Over the holidays, my boyfriend’s father and I delved into his family’s genealogy. John has a rich treasure trove of family documents that have been scanned, including an 1885 narrative of the life of Stephen Thomas Acres, his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I immediately fell in love with Acres’ florid writing style, and his family story traces an interesting pattern of migration from Ireland to Spain to Gibraltar to Iowa. He begins thusly, “Deeming it my duty to place on record, such incidents of my being as will enable my children to know their lineage and descent, and in accordance with their desire so expressed, I now proceed without ostentation, and in the fear of God, to discharge that duty as truthfully as my memory and my own knowledge will enable me to do so.” Continue reading ‘Our new Eden’
Monthly Archives: January 2019
“As the flood itself has receded in Boston’s collective memory, so, too, have the players in this tragedy” – Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide
As genealogists, we build relationships with the dead. We see them in our minds as we peel back the layers of their lives. We absorb details about the environments where they lived and worked, and whether or not they had any time to play. Sometimes researching is like looking for a needle in a haystack; other times it’s like picking wildflowers in a field. When we have enough evidence, we write the stories of people we never knew. Continue reading Collective memory
A family thicket
When people ask me which DNA test I recommend, I turn around and ask them some questions. If what they are after is taking is an “autosomal DNA test,” I may tell them different reasons to take a test with Ancestry or 23andme (and then usually recommend they also upload their Raw DNA onto GEDMatch, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage to connect with more matches). While I have had many examples of successful connections with the first four sites, I had not any significant breakthroughs with MyHeritage until very recently. Continue reading A family thicket
‘They shall not grow old’
One of my sons discovered last month that we had an opportunity to view Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary constructed from World War I motion picture footage owned by the Imperial War Museum in London. The movie was shown on only two dates in December, but apparently will be released more generally beginning in January, so all is not lost if you missed seeing it.
The film’s premise is to restore the humanity of men who, up until this time, have been caught in a silent world of flickering black-and-white images. Modern digital techniques allowed Jackson’s crew to rebalance the density/lighting and speed of the film, and – in some footage – to add realistic color. Continue reading ‘They shall not grow old’
It’s all in the details
In May of 2017 I had the privilege of visiting Italy with my siblings and parents. It was the first time we had all visited Italy together, and we had a full itinerary. Yet as delightful as Rome and Amalfi are, particularly for anyone who loves history, I was most thrilled (unsurprisingly) by our road trips to the countryside, where we visited our ancestral towns.
I could write ad nauseam about the experience – about the unparalleled hospitality of distant cousins and family friends; the bottomless jugs of homemade wine and never-ending courses of local dishes; the ancient, gnarled olive trees and cobblestone streets that glow and delight the eye in the evening sunset. And for the genealogist, there is a distinct benefit to walking in the footsteps of your ancestors – nearly every road will lead to the town hall, where decades, sometime centuries, of vital records sit at your fingertips. Exploring the details of these original records, rather than extracts, certified copies, or indexes, is the subject of this post. Continue reading It’s all in the details
Rules of engagement
Like Alicia Crane Williams, I have been inspired by the fifth anniversary of Vita Brevis to think about the writing of essays. When I first began contributing to this blog, I wasn’t sure if I really had anything to say – and, if I did, whether I could say it within the allotted word count.
As it turned out, I have come to relish the discipline of writing to the suggested 400- to 500-word count. I now recommend it to anyone who wants to get started in family history writing: pick some aspect of your family history and write 400–500 words on the topic. It’s only about a page to a page and a half of text. Continue reading Rules of engagement
ICYMI: Grants for New England historians
[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 October 2014. NERFC continues to add members and to increase the number of fellowships granted, so I urge doctoral candidates and freelance scholars to consider applying for one in the 2019–2020 cycle. Completed applications are due at midnight on Friday, 1 February 2019.]
I will be out of the office today, attending a planning meeting for the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) at the John Hay Library in Providence. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is a member of the consortium, a group made up of New England state and local historical societies, university and college libraries (Harvard, Smith, Trinity, and Brown), and museums (Historic Deerfield and Mystic Seaport). What links the membership together, for the purpose of providing $5,000 research fellowships, is a shared interest in making their large collections available for use by historical researchers. Continue reading ICYMI: Grants for New England historians
A census substitute
A few years ago, I was about to take my second academic sabbatical at NEHGS. My first sabbatical produced much of the research needed for the Vital Records of Stoughton, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1850, published by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants in 2008. For my second sabbatical I wanted to select a project that would benefit genealogists and historians alike. I had a conversation with our President D. Brenton Simons, and he made me aware of a little-known manuscript of Boston records at the Rare Book Department of the Boston Public Library. These fragile books contain the “Taking Books” (later renamed Valuation Books) for the town of Boston from the early 1780s through 1822. Continue reading A census substitute
The Great Molasses Flood
I’ve heard the adage about the substance probably more often than I’ve tasted it. I’ve never used the phrase, or typed it … until now. The expression, however, does make logical sense. Molasses is slow. I’ve made my share of gingerbread, and using molasses is a bit of a battle. The amount of waste is astounding. You have to make sure you allocate more than what the recipe calls for because it will cling to the measuring apparatus and mixing utensils creating an epic cleanup. In appearance, molasses seems predictable. I mean, you know molasses. Right? But how slow would 10 gallons of molasses be? Or 100? Continue reading The Great Molasses Flood
The object tells a story
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with NEHGS Conservator Todd Pattison in our Conservation Lab to discuss his background, the world of conservation, and his work at NEHGS. Todd joined our Library staff in June 2018 and brought a wealth of experience with him, having worked previously at the Harvard College Library and the Northeast Document Conservation Center. He has quickly developed an understanding of NEHGS and its mission. Working with him has been a wonderful experience for us, and we welcome this opportunity to give our Vita Brevis readers a chance to get to know him, too. Todd will present a free webinar on Thursday, January 17, on the topic of Preserving Your Family Treasures. (You can learn more and register here.) Continue reading The object tells a story